If you’ve always wondered how Italians celebrate Christmas, in the lines below you can satisfy your curiosity about it!
Christmas in Italy is celebrated over several weeks, as Italians celebrate from early December, until the day of Epiphany, on the 6th of January. Precisely, the official celebrations start on the 8th of December (public holiday, offices are closed), one of the calendar days dedicated to Holy Mary. This is the day when we make a Christmas tree at home and when the public Christmas light are displayed and lit up along the roads and in the squares. Some of the most famous fairy lights displays are:
• Lighting of the Christmas tree in Piazza del Vaticano in Rome
• Lighting the biggest Christmas tree in the world in Gubbio
This is the moment of the year that we all wait for. Adults and children are happy alike and impatient to decorate the Christmas tree. Everything takes place in an atmosphere of warmth and happiness. The Christmas holidays, for Italians, are a time when quality time can be spent together: parents with children, grandparents with grandchildren, adults with old friends. Obviously the Christmas holidays are also a chance to eat lots of good food!
There is a festive atmosphere during the whole of December. Christmas markets with various stalls with typical food, Christmas sweets and gifts can be visited in many towns. The most beautiful and characteristic ones are in northern Italy; also the market in Rome is quite popular.
During the festive season in Italy, a nativity scene (presepe in Italian), is usually put up in churches, town squares and often in houses and is for many the most important part of Christmas decorations. In Naples the most original presepe are made, often with statuettes reproducing famous people that have been talked about a lot during the year.
On Christmas Eve, according to the old Catholic tradition, in most families no meat is eaten during the day as a sign of respect towards the nativity of Jesus. The proper festive celebrations start after the midnight mass.
In Italy Santa Claus is known as Babbo Natale and like in other countries, he brings presents to children on Christmas eve.
The main meals during the festive season are dinner on the 24th and both meals on the 25th. While on the Christmas eve’s dinner we eat mainly fish, on the 25th we eat all the delicious dishes of the Italian Christmas tradition. After reading this list, you’ll probably feel a bit hungry!
• Appetizers: according to one’s taste. There’s no specific rule, but normally we eat cold cuts and cheese.
• First Course: it really depends on local traditions. The most popular dishes are lasagne, cannelloni or a kind of soup made with eggs and parmigiano cheese. The bravest, also eat some lentil soup, possibly with zampone (stuffed pigs foot).
• Main Course: since fish is eaten the day before, normally we eat meat. As for the first course, the choice depends a lot on regional traditions. Some of the most common dishes are roast capon, beef fillet wrapped in pastry or duck in orange sauce.
• Desserts: Italians celebrate Christmas with a wide range of desserts. The most typical, that you can find only during the holiday season are Pandoro (traditional sweet yeast bread shaped like a frustum with an eight-pointed star section), Panettone (like pandoro with addition of candied fruits and raisins) and Torrone (candy made of honey and almonds).
• Wine: in Italy an excellent selection of wines can not be missing. We start with a prosecco for the toast to begin with the lunch, we continue with local wines and close with a sparkling wine to accompany the dessert.
This is the typical Christmas lunch. Then… we start all over again for the dinner!
The season celebrations go on further until the 6th of January (Epiphany), when the befana arrives. Befana is an old lady who, according to traditions, comes in search of the Christ Child.
Children hang up their stockings (possibly along the fireplace frame), so that the befana can bring presents to the good children. The naughty ones get lumps of black sugar sweets, resembling coal. The morning of the 6th, as they wake up, all children run to check what Befana left the night before. The arrival of Befana is celebrated with traditional Christmas cakes, as panettone, pandoro and torrone.
During all the Christmas season, Italians meet up as much as they can to share a meal together and sometimes to play games like tombola (kind of Bingo), Mercante in Fiera (a game with special cards), Sette e Mezzo (a game with normal cards) and many others.
Christmas for Italians is a beautiful moment of joy and happiness, one of the few in the year in which we can spend a lot of time with the people we love, so we enjoy every single day and moment to be together in joy.